The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Not so far from home

ScaryA less busy HarajukuOld Uncle Photo in HarajukuOld Uncle Photo in Harajuku

Took a last trip to Harajuku, last weekend. I don`t go there often now because firstly the story has been done to death already and secondly, I don`t like to make people think I like hanging around with the perverts that everyone assumes the people there must be. Plus, quite frankly, it is a little boring nowadays and not just because I`ve gotton used to it. Things have changed in the time I`ve been away and I was quite shocked to see the number of tourists especially the number of tourists dressed up. Some are cos-players visiting from Europe and The States true; some are marketing something using the style for all the wrong messages. Others are just plain strange: TV personality wannabes with a bad idea and a makeup artist; an expensive latex suit and no idea of the heart or the culture of the place. It seems that many westerners and international weirdos think they can come to Harajuku and walk around like they own the place just because they have a costume on and a camera crew in- tow. The Japanese girls (much less in number than the times before) looked almost elegantly refined by comparison.

There is a little friendly community there that I am not part of, nor really wish to be but some of the faces I still remember from years ago and it was nice, now, to actually talk to them in my improved Japanese and compare the changes over the years. None of them are happy about the influx of outsiders, especially those that don`t seem to respect the traditions of the place. And it is getting harder to take pictures because tourist photographers are ruder, more intrusive and the girls have, ironically, become more private and hidden.

The man above is affectionately known as Old Uncle Photo and is a famous character of Harajuku. I`d never really liked him before, thinking that an old man in a cowboy hat hanging around with troubled teenage girls was not someone you could like that much. I`m still not so sure why he is there every Sunday but talking to him he seemed harmless enough and actually good company with his smattering of English used to hiss asides at the swarm of photographers and tell me more information about himself than I requested and all of it good. Because, most surprisingly, he seemed much more innocent than you`d imagine. Sure he`s not grown up yet but a lot of Japan is like that. Sure he likes hanging around with teenage girls in sexy clothing but he did seem genuinely protective towards them more than lecherous and the girls trusted him and by association me and I could take good shots.

That`s the thing with Harajuku that I`ve always found amazing; it is just so innocent, the girls may look beautiful (or often scary-see the top picture) but there seems to be no sexual undercurrent to the place. I`m sure there is but it is deep and private and only for those that are part of the community but when “in costume” they seem just to enjoy being someone else for that afternoon. All the other world is meaningless. That the whole other world is coming, en masse, to Harajuku and bringing an end to that innocence is a sad thing. Next time I go there could be many years in the future, I wonder what it will be like then. 

For now though I feel lucky to be in Tokyo where a one hour train ride from my house can land me in somewhere as interesting as Harajuku. And for less than four Dollars!

Nothing like that in England and even that hour ride to nothingness comes at ten times the price.

See Ya



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